Another busy Saturday night at Café Machiavelli is finally winding down. My biggest table of the evening, a clamorous Italian familia of twenty people, are finishing their desserts.
“You drop the check on that table yet?” Willem, the manager, asks me.
“Give it to ’em now. I want to start getting people out of here.”
“I’d rather wait until the host asks for it,” I reply.
“Do it now,” Willem snorts. “I’ve been here since ten in the morning. I want to go home.”
“I’ll drop it in a few minutes.”
Willem looks at me, exasperated. “Why won’t you do what I tell you?” he stammers.
“Because Willem,” I say. “When you’re tired you get cranky. And when you get cranky your sense of hospitality goes out the window.”
Willem glares at me and walks away. After several months working together he still doesn’t know what to make of me. Oh well.
While I’m waiting for my table to finish I start my end of the night side work. I got assigned the unpleasant task of breaking down the dessert station. Halfway through my drudgery I check in on my party. Everyone declines coffee refills. The host, a big loud man in his mid fifties, signals for the check. I have it preprinted and ready to go – with automatic gratuity tacked on of course.
“Here you are, sir,” I say, handing the host the check holder.
“You did a great job,” the man says, slurring his words slightly. “Really great. Thanks for putting up with us.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
“How much do I owe ya?”
“The total with the gratuity included is right here,” I say, pointing to the circled total.
“So the tip’s already on there?”
“Yes sir,” I say, with a trace of apology in my voice, “It’s house policy for any party with more than eight people.”
“No problem,” the man says. “And don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.”
I walk away from the table and give the man time to examine the check. I think he’ll tip above and beyond the automatic gratuity. This table ran me ragged but they were nice, unpretentious people. I liked them. After a moment I notice the host stuffing a wad of bills into the checkbook. I’m happy. Waiters love cash money.
“Here ya are kid,” the man says, handing me the checkbook.
“Thank you, sir,” I reply. “It was a pleasure serving you.”
The man grasps my upper left arm in his meaty paw and squeezes. Despite his age he’s still got quite a grip. “Thanks kid,” he says. “We’ll be back.”
Arm still tingling, I walk back to the waiter station and start counting the pile of cash in the checkbook. The bill, with automatic gratuity included, is $1078. The man left me $1069. I count the money three times to be sure. I’m sure. So much for “taking care of me.”
Noticing the look of consternation on my face Willem walks over. “What’s the matter?”
“The guy shorted me $9 on the autograt,” I say. “But since he’s dropped over a grand I feel funny about making a fuss over it.”
“Tough shit,” Willem says. “Go get your money.”
“A bill’s a bill.”
I take a deep breath. My sixth waiter sense is telling me there’ll be trouble if I go back to the table. But hey, maybe Willem’s right on this one. A bill is a bill. I don’t short my landlord on the rent do I? Besides, nine bucks is nice bucks. I go back to the table.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, sir,” I say to host. “There’s a minor issue with the bill.”
“What’s the matter?” the host asks, his breath heavy with red wine.
“The check was $1078 and you left me $1069.”
“Oh!” the man exclaims. “I’m sorry buddy.”
“It happens, sir.”
The man pulls a twenty out of his pocket and hands it to me. “Here ya go.”
“Thanks sir,” I say. “I’ll be right back with your change.”
“Keep it,” the man says, “It’s yours.”
“That’s very generous, sir. Thank you.”
I happily walk back to the waiter station and continue my clean up chores. For once I’m glad my waiter’s intuition was wrong. I made a killing on that table.
Twenty minutes later, as I’m wiping down the ice cream freezer, I hear a man shout, “THAT CHEAP MOTHERFUCKER! I CAN’T BELIEVE HE DID THAT TO ME!”
The voice sounds familiar. I look up. It’s the host from my big party. He’s next the hostess stand, struggling to put on his fur lined coat.
“C’mon Uncle Salvatore,” a young woman says to him. “He’s only doing his job.”
“That cocksucker!” the man yells, “He’s so fucking cheap that he hits me up for nine lousy bucks after I dropped a grand here?” Damn, my sixth waiter sense was right.
“Uncle Sal,” the girl says, pulling on his arm. “You’re drunk. Let it go.”
“He embarrassed me in front of my family!”
“You’re the one embarrassing us Uncle Sal,” the girl says hotly.
“Fuck that guy!” Uncle Sal says, looking over at me. “He’s an asshole.”
I decide not to say anything. That would be adding fuel to the fire. I stay behind the dessert station until Uncle Sal’s out the door. Despite the heavy glass doors I can still hear him screaming out on the sidewalk. The restaurant’s owner walks up to me, looking very concerned.
“What the hell happened?” he asks. I tell him.
“Fuck that guy,” the owner says, “Willem’s right. A bill’s a bill.”
“Thanks for understanding,” I say, relieved.
“Not a problem.”
“Could you do me a favor though?” I ask.
“Sure,” the owner says. “What?”
“Could you have one of your cop friends escort me home? I’d hate to end up like that waiter on The Sopranos.”
The owner, a big Sopranos fan, laughs. “That would suck wouldn’t it?”
“Well the guy did say he was gonna ‘take care of me.’”
“You’ll be okay,” the owner says. “He’s just a nasty drunk.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Twenty minutes later it’s time to go home. Since some people from the party are still outside smoking cigarettes, I decide discretion shall be the better part of valor. I sneak out a side door, navigate down a dirty alley, and take a detour around the block.
I’d hate to have my book published posthumously.